Substance abuse issues among senior citizens has become one of the fastest growing health issues today. A considerable percentage of seniors in Arizona have already become victims to this disease. Prescription drugs (most commonly prescribed post surgery) and alcohol play the major roles in the statistics. Estimates go as high as 25% for seniors who have significant behavioral health problems, which includes substance abuse and addiction.

According to recent statistical (2015 census) information, it has been estimated that the total population of seniors above the age of 65 years is close to 47.8 million, or roughly 15% of the US population overall. That means we could be dealing with a pool of around 11 million seniors who face health issues including substance abuse and addiction.

Several reasons have contributed towards substance abuse related issues among senior citizens. Lack of awareness can be considered as the main reason, no one thinks about “grandma” or “grandpa” being addicted to drugs. Being prescribed painkillers following an operation, but not being informed about their possible dependance is another large factor. Almost half of all seniors use alcohol. With age, many seniors can face an increased sensitivity to the effects of alcohol (lower tolerance). Most seniors don’t have a clear understanding about what can lead them towards substance abuse. In fact, they aren’t aware of the limits, until they themselves have become victims of an addiction.

Due to hurried office visits and limited research, it has become difficult for healthcare professionals to pay their attention towards the substance misuse among seniors. On the other hand, the symptoms linked with substance abuse are similar to other health conditions that many seniors deal with on a daily basis, so it can be easy to miss a disagnosis. For example, depression, dementia and diabetes symptoms are somewhat similar to the symptoms that can be linked with substance abuse.

It has also been observed that senior citizens can be somewhat reluctant to seek professional assistance in order to get rid of substance abuse related issues. They are aware of the fact that they have become a victim of substance abuse or addiction, however, they don’t want to go for recovery because they feel ashamed of their abuse. If proper treatment is not provided, the extent of substance abuse could become worse with time. With the number of senior citizens estimated to double in just a few short decades, this is a problem we definitely need to get in front of now, and get people the care they desperately need.

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